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Thursday, 24 October 2019

The paradox of choice

Since several days, I'm puzzled about the proverb "quality over quantity". If that proverb is true - which I believe it to be - then why use certain apps (eg, dating) the reverse approach: quantity over quality? A cynical answer would be: to get you addicted to their app. There is plenty of support for that view: Curiosity, Men'sHealth, MarketWatch, NewStatesman, and VICE.

However, using popular apps also make you feel unhappy besides addicted (eg, Facebook, Messenger, Tinder, WhatsApp). In his 2004 book and 2005 TED Talk, psychologist Barry Schwartz argues that "choice has made us not freer but more paralyzed, not happier but more dissatisfied". This phenomenon is known as "the paradox of choice" and explains "why more is less".

The phrase "quality over quantity" is often attributed to Aristotle (384 - 322 BC). An interesting 2013 blog article argues against that: "In 45 B.C., the Roman statesman and philosopher Cicero created the Latin term qualitas in his introduction to Greek philosophy." Note: emphasis by LO That blog further suggests that the proverb is a manufacturing concept, which makes good sense.

In family-owned businesses, a choice for quality over quantity makes perfect sense. It makes less sense in today's corporate world, where owners and management (may) have different interests (eg, short-term versus long-term). A future product recall by a manufacturer will usually affect the next CEO's bonus. There is often a limited claw back risk on bonuses.

Even in the kaizen dominated Japanese manufacturing culture, product recalls happen more often according to a 2019 Japan News article (eg, Bridgestone/Firestone tires recallTakata airbag recall). A 2019 Strategic Risk article blames "products and supply chains become more complex".

In my view, these manufacturing problems are primarily rooted in an insufficient "time to market": "the length of time it takes from a product being conceived until its being available for sale". Hence, from quality over quantity, to quantity over quality, towards time over quality.

An interesting example of time over quality comes from a manufacturer that believes in the paradox of choice. Its late owner and former CEO, Steve Jobs, advocated the quality of its products (Mango). Recently, Apple is facing lots of criticism for the quality of its releases: Michael Tsai-2014Forbes-2016, Axios-2018Independent-2019, the Register-2019: How bad is Catalina?)

Some relevant quotes on quality:
  • John Ruskin: Quality is never an accident. It is always the result of intelligent effort. 
  • Henry Ford: Quality means doing it right when no one is looking. 
  • Levi's advertising campaign in 1980's: Quality never goes out of style.
  • Bill Gates: Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning. 

Fly Like an Eagle (1976) by the Steve Miller Band

Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin' 
Into the future 
Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin' 
Into the future


Note: all markings (bolditalicunderlining) by LO unless stated otherwise

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